Spotlight Interview: Heather Sullivan

Heather Sullivan, TV Production Associate

Atlanta

WFU Class of 2016

Major: Communications (Media Studies Concentration)

Minor: Film, Theater & Psychology

image.png

Heather Sullivan walks us through the opportunities, experiences, and decisions that led her to work as a TV production associate in Atlanta! The 2016 Wake grad shares her insights on networking and finding the path to your passion.

DeacLink: What did you study while at Wake?

Heather Sullivan: I majored in Communications, with a concentration in media studies, and I minored in film, theater, and psychology. I’m a 2016 Grad.

DL: How did you pick that trio of minors?

HS: I always knew I was interested in film and theater. Those were kind of the obvious. And then I took a psych elective and was obsessed with everything about it. I was like, I want to take as many of these classes as possible, so I'm just going to minor.

DL: How have you been applying for these fields? Do you mind walking me through how your career has unfolded since you graduated?

HS: So I knew I was interested in working in the creative producing side of things, so a lot of my focus and theater was more directing. I acted, but I was more focused on directing and creative world building. And film at Wake - it's a lot of criticism. So you're looking at things from the content side and less about like anything specifically technical. I didn't know how to get a job in TV without any contacts, but I knew there was work in Atlanta, so I basically moved here, took a restaurant job and just applied to any job that I could find online until I got hired.

This is how I ended up doing what I'm doing right now, which is for this company that produces two TV shows: Couples Court with the Cutlers and Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court, so it’s conflict TV. This is not what I fully expected, but it's a 10 month contract every year, which is so rare in TV and that kind of industry. It’s steady work, and I'm learning a ton. It's kind of amazing.

But when I first graduated, I worked at Wake for a year, and I worked for IPLACe, which is an interdisciplinary performing arts center. I did that for a year before I moved to Atlanta.

DL: Is that within Wake Forest?

HS: Yes, it sits within Wake. A theater director is the Director of it, and Christina Soriano is actually on the board. It was like a fellow position, but it is not as intense as a fellow position. There was a lot more freedom there.

DL: So what exactly are you doing for your TV shows?

HS: So I'm a production associate, so I'm part of a team that is booking the guests and producing them for the show. So a lot of my day to day role involves a lot of coordinating skills. So like booking travel, budgeting, talking to guests, prepping them for the show. I learned a lot of these coordinating skills when I worked at iplace for that year. And then on top of that I am talking to people, screening their stories, collecting their stories and getting them together as a possibility to be produced on the show. And then once they get here I am following them around and getting them ready to be on TV. I’m walking them through anything they need to do, including all the tests. I’m taking them to the lie detector tests and scheduling their DNA tests and different studies, stuff like that. It’s all of the prep work that goes in before the show and then day of show coordination. It's really cool as far as TV goes, because I'm doing both pre-coordinating and day-of show planning, which aren't two things that you get to typically do in the same role.

Conflict TV and talk show TV are very similar because those are things that are being produced - you're producing a lot of content. Pre-show coordination is a lot more technical and it's a lot of physical coordinating versus creative producing. So on top of doing that and learning a lot of the pre-production type stuff, I'm also learning day-of producing, which has more of the creative producing of preparing people for the actual show. That means being there, leading them along, and getting them ready for what to expect. So a lot of times like you'll have two different people in those jobs.

DL: What do you see yourself doing next?

HS: It’s interesting talking about working in reality TV because I think a lot of people see it as kind of shallow. I don't think that people will recognize a lot of the creativity that goes into it. I think this comes a little bit from my psychology minor, but I love working with real people, getting them to trust me and making them feel comfortable enough to share their personal life basically to a national audience. And so that is a lot of what a creative producer does in reality TV is it's basically befriending somebody and making them trust you enough to be their authentic selves. So that what I love about it. I'm a people person. I've always loved doing that and I get to create these relationships with people in order to create interesting TV out of real stuff and real stories. It's both challenging and super fulfilling because it's all based on your ability to connect with somebody else.

So goals for me include... I'm a Bachelor superfan and my executive producer actually used to work on The Bachelor. I would love to work in that kind of environment. With competitive or dating shows, you get several months with the same cast.  I would love to creatively produce on that. I want to be the person behind the camera talking to the person on camera. It’s pretty different than the kind of show I'm on right now where the relationship I'm building is going to last for two weeks, and they're only physically here for two days. With a show like The Bachelor for two months you're the only person these people are talking to. They don't have cell phones, but that is amazing. I love that kind of environment. It's a little bit messed up. I feel a little manipulative when I talk about it, but I just really enjoy it.

DL: How did you land your current role?

HS: Essentially a lot of online applications. I literally got my friend a job like a month after doing this job. The easiest way to get into TV in particular is networking and having a connection and basically talking to anybody looking for available PA work. But I kind of skipped that step. A lot of people start out as day players, where you're getting hired for a day or a week on a shoot that just needs people to carry equipment around or do a craft table or stuff like that. I just was really uninterested in that. I knew that was the first step that most people were doing, but I also heard from a lot of people that it's not necessarily a clear path forward. There's no ladder in TV. It’s not like “first you're a PA, and then they'll hire you as an associate producer and then they’ll hire you as this.” Instead you get a job, you hope people like you, and then you hope that you get the opportunity to improve. You can do whatever you want to do.

So I was trying to apply to stuff above my level a lot of the time. This job is a production associate, so it's still a lower level like a PA, but it's more of that creative intensity that I was looking for. I ended up applying online. I got to the interview and a lot of what I was doing for IPLACe as an Administrative Coordinator was similar to this kind of work. I focused on that in the interview and I got hired.

DL: Tell me a bit more too about your time with IPLACe.

HS: IPLACe is a center that I worked with a lot as an undergrad. I would act as a mock client for the graduate counseling students, which was really fun cause I was involving my psych and theater degree at the same time. IPLACe paid us to do this for these students, and the students got to work with life-like clients. It was great for both of us, and we were getting paid acting experience. So that was a project I was really involved with on top of a couple of my own projects. Then when I was close to graduating, the Director approached me about working as a coordinator. As the coordinator, I was pretty much the sole employee of the center other than a student assistant. So I was responsible for doing the budget. I was doing guests travel and accommodations, event planning, event coordinating, all that kind of stuff. But it was basically whatever the center needed, I had to do. And that's a lot of what working in TV is like, especially like lower level positions. It’s a lot of doing whatever your boss asks, and if you don’t know how, figure it out.

DL: How have you liked working and living in Atlanta?

HS: I love Atlanta. For years in college I was thinking “I’m going to live in New York, live that life. I'm going to try to act or maybe I'll work in PR. It’ll be great.”  And then I went on some career treks through the OPCD and I realized it might not be that feasible for me to live in New York. I didn’t have money my parents weren’t backing in any way. I had very few connections, and it's expensive. So I did some regrouping, and that's why I ended up in Winston for another year. I kind of didn't know what I wanted to do. Then I really got interested in working specifically in production, and trying to get similar level jobs there, which I couldn't do in North Carolina. But Atlanta had a ton of film and TV stuff going on. The industry was booming and it was a five hour drive from home. It was still warm, and in the south.

I had a friend who was moving at the same time, and she asked me to come to Atlanta with her. I thought it sounded great, and it’s been the best of both worlds. You get all of the big city aspects of diversity and accessibility, and there's tons of things to do, there's different sorts of people here, but then you also have southern weather and southern hospitality. I walk around New York and everyone’s frowning, whereas in Atlanta everyone's smiling, and it just feels like a happier place to live. There's more green and access to nature, and it's drivable. I mean people say that traffic is bad, but you just learn how to deal with it.  Location, as far as an apartment goes, is the number one thing in Atlanta.

From a film perspective, there may be slightly less work than LA, but there's more of a need here because not as many people are based here. You're coming to a slightly smaller market, but it's not an oversaturated market at this point. They are still building crew. That's one of the reasons I actually got hired at my job. They were sick of bringing people in from LA and New York. They were looking for local talent.

DL: So what advice do you have for students thinking about coming to Atlanta?

HS: I think my biggest advice would be to connect with people. Alums are great, but reach out to anybody. Even if they're not in the industry you're interested in, if they're living in Atlanta, they likely know somebody they can introduce you to. I think many people see someone working in marketing, and don’t want to reach out, but half the time the people in marketing are also working with TV and film people. There are those connections in places you don't expect.

The other thing is that if you have a passion for a field, just keep applying to it. There comes this kind of burnout from rejection, and especially in a field like like film and television, but really any kind of artistic field. But you never know when somebody is going to give you a chance, but they can’t give it to you unless you are constantly putting yourself out there.

DL: So what do you think Wake and/or Wake Arts could have done to better prepare you and other students for life after graduation?

HS: I think an awareness of what jobs are available to you with a liberal arts degree would have been helpful. There's not a lot of technical training at Wake, so this is just my specific field, but you're coming out with a very applicable set of skills, but a set of skills that people are not directly asking for in their job postings. So learning how to present those skills in a way, and finding your niche in a market, that would be really important.
For instance, I don't know everything there is to know about editing or post work, which is a lot of the technical stuff that goes into film. I don't know a lot of the terms I'm supposed to know when I'm on set because we didn't have those classes. It was a liberal arts film education. So when I came  here, I didn’t know those things, but what I do know is that I can problem solve anything, and it's because of my education. The question is how do you translate that? And just just because I don't know this now, doesn’t mean I won’t learn it by the end of the week. So it's really emphasizing that just because you don't have the skills posted doesn't mean that you don't have the ability to do the job.

You also need to realize that it's not going to be a set path. There’s no one entry level job that you can do to start your career.

DL: So what would you say is the best bit of advice on any topic you could give to readers?

HS: The biggest thing is to say “yes” to as many situations as possible. So if there is a random networking event, go do it. If someone from Wake hits you up about getting coffee, once again, they're not in your field, go and talk to them because you never know how these connections are going to play out in the long run.






Spotlight Interview: Natalie Michaels

Natalie Michaels, Performance Artist

New York City

WFU Class of 2015

Majors: Vocal Performance and Theater Arts

NM.png

Natalie Michaels catches us up since her graduation in 2015. The Performance artist describes her experiences at Wake, in the New York theater scene, and throughout everything in between.

DeacLink: Please walk me through your path after graduation.

Natalie Michaels: My second semester senior year I ended up doing the SETC conference, which I had done a couple of years before trying to find professional work for once I graduated, and I didn't. I had a couple auditions, a couple of callbacks, but I didn't really find anything. So what I ended up doing was applying to another program, and at that point I didn't see myself going to more school. I felt like I had graduated with my double major and was done, but I ended up applying to a different program through the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. It's called the National Theater Institute. They have a semester long program, and a lot of colleges offer it as kind of semester abroad during school. But what I ended up doing was the Fall after I graduated I attended for a semester as kind of a postgrad study. I got college credit through Connecticut College, but since I had already graduated I didn't really need it. It was just kind of more credit, but not really towards any degree specifically. I called it a fake grad school.

So I did for a semester, and graduated from that program in December of 2015. And then for awhile lived at home, I live in Connecticut, and I was auditioning a bunch and doing that New York grind. I was commuting from Connecticut into the city. I would go back and forth, go to auditions, and then I worked at a restaurant as a hostess.

And then one audition in April I sent a video submission to a resort in West Virginia to be a cabaret singer. At that point in time, and even still today, you kinda just submit for everything and hope it works out. This job was kind of one of those where I just submitted and like hoped to hear back from them. And I did. And they said we love your voice. We’d love to hire you for a cabaret, which they called Spring House Entertainers. So you do cabaret shows and you do waltzes in this big resort, The Greenbrier, in West Virginia. So that was the beginning of May. They said we'd love to hire you, we'd love to interview you, talk to you about the job. Can you come here in a week.

So within a week, I decided I'm picking up my life and I'm going to West Virginia. I was working there and that was a six days a week performer gig. You did cabaret shows all of the time and dances. I started in May of 2016 and then I finished my contract in January of 2017, so I was there for eight months, which is long for a performer contract. I really loved it. It was great to be able to settle somewhere for a little bit. And then after January I decided it's time. I'd saved a lot of money. I was going to move to New York. So I went from home to West Virginia, and then I moved to New York in March of 2017. So I lived here for about six months, again doing auditions. I did a few small festival and plays and things like that, cabaret performances in the city.

And then actually one of my friends who I'd worked with in West Virginia said, “Hey, we need somebody last minute. A soprano dropped out of our group really quickly. Can you come and do Christmas season?” So I lived in the city for about six or seven months, and was working the grind and doing the auditions thing, and doing a few things here and there if I got them. And then I ended up back in West Virginia for two months from November of 2017 to January of 2018. It was nice to go back to because I had already know the job, and a lot of the people were still the same, and it was nice to leave the hectic city for a little bit, especially at Christmas time.

So I went back and then came back again. I had somebody sublet my room. I came back to my apartment in the city in January and then in February I auditioned for this show. It was your typical “Oh, I'm going to go audition for this thing, we'll see what happens.” But I actually booked it. I'm working off Broadway at St. Luke's Theater right now. So that show, it's called It Came from Beyond. We started rehearsals in the beginning of March, and we opened in April, and we're still running. So that’s where I am now.

The show that I'm doing right now only performs once a week. So I'm still working full time and performing. You have to find that balance of how much work, how much to not, how much to audition, how much to take classes, things like that. It’s hard. Given that I was born and raised here, it was the logical choice after school to just landing here and see what happens.


DL: How did your time at Wake inform your career path?

NM: When I came to Wake, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I knew exactly what I wanted to major in. I knew exactly the plan I wanted to take. Initially I was looking for a musical theater degree, like a BFA, which a lot of people in musical theater gravitate towards. And then when I accepted to Wake, I realized it's a BA program. I decided to major in theater and major in music so I could make up my own musical theater degree.

Wake fully prepared me to pursue a career in theater and acting and music and all of that. I took all of the classes that I knew I would need - acting classes and vocal lessons and things like that.  I really appreciated how much Wake not only trained me as a performer but also trained as a theater person. For the people who go to conservatories, that's all they do. With Wake, they train you how to be a performer, but they also want you to know every other aspect there is. You take design classes and history classes. I took D&P, scene design, stage makeup, and all of these things. So you learn exactly how a theater works. And I think that was the most valuable thing because I stepped out of my little performer bubble that I had put myself in and became a well rounded theater. Wake definitely helped me do that. So now when helping out with a festival or a recital, I don't only look at it from the performer's, point of view, but I look at it from the theatrical production standpoint. So I can say ”the lights here are weird,” or you know, “maybe you should try this staging differently.” And while I'm not the greatest director, at least I know how see something in a different way than just standing on stage and singing.

As far as Music at Wake, it was such a helpful training tool to get out of my head as far as solely musical theater. Like I said, I had a straight path. Nothing was gonna stop me. But the music degree is mostly classical music, which is great and I love it, but it made me open my head to something other than musical theater. So I studied a full classical repertoire all my four years and ended up doing a full honors voice recital, with all classical music. It opened me up to the world of Opera, which is definitely something I've done since and wish I could get more into because it is still theater. I also noticed how much my voice changed too from ages 18 to 21. It  developed in a way that I didn't think it could.

DL: What could Wake have done to have better prepared students for life after graduation?

NM: I think they do a lot to prepare students for the outside world. That’s Wake’s nature, so the theater department just does that as well. The senior seminar was hugely helpful. I remember in that class and we'd have people come in and talk to us about different theater companies, different Grad schools, different cities.

I think they could help student find more performance jobs or tech jobs. I think it would be great if there were ways to incorporate musical theater into Wake’s curriculum. I think a lot of people in both music and theater like musicians. And I wish they would do more than one musical every other year, but that's just me.

DL: So what is your favorite part about working in the city?

NM: I’ve always been in love with the city. It's a catch 22. It causes a lot of stress, but it causes a lot of fun of not knowing what's next. You know what I mean? I've kind of lived the last few years not knowing where I'm going to be next, but knowing it'll be fun to find out. So I think that's my favorite part.

The theater scene in New York is no other. It's just fun to be a part of it, and fun to meet so many different performers. You can throw a rock in the city and find somebody who sings, or dances, or acts, or designs, or whatever. I think finding that community and meeting people who after the same goals, is great. It's hard because there's a lot of competition in the city, but it’s also important to set aside that competition and realize we're all after the same goal. It’s best to be a community that can come together to make a piece of theater, all go to this audition together, or all get drinks after a horrible audition. It’s nice to have such a large community that understands what you're going through.

DL: What’s your favorite part about acting?

NM: I used to say that my favorite part of acting was rehearsal process.  I loved just playing around. You have a script or you have an idea, and you just play around with what it could be. That was my favorite part of acting - just being able to see what works and see what does it and watch, watch something come together. And I think for me it's still kind of that.

But for now, I've been in the same show for a couple of months and playing the same part. I'm doing an understudy for one of the leads, so I get to kind of step into that role once or twice. But playing, the same part in the same show for a long time is actually kind of fun because you know exactly what you're doing, you know the process you have to go through. But once you've done it for a while, you can start mixing things up. You can start saying, “Oh I don't want my character to think about that right now. What if she thought about this instead and that drove the scene? So now, my favorite part of acting is just the play of it. The not knowing where you're going to land, but figuring it out. Being able to think about a character and think about what they would do and what they want, but also realizing, oh, that was a horrible choice, I'm going to try something else. It’s not just settling with one option.

DL: So what’s next for you?

NM: The show that I'm doing right now just was extended to the end of September, so I'll probably be there at least till after that. Other than that, I’ll be living in the city for a little bit longer. Probably more auditions, more day jobs. Just the grind until that right audition comes along. You never know what's next, but you hope it’s good.

DL: What advice do you have for theater students?

NM: Fight your hardest for what you want. People at Wake would say “You can’t do that double major,” and would tell me I’m crazy for taking 21 hours every semester. If you know that you have a passion in the arts, go after it. Don’t let anybody say that will be too hard or that it’s impossible. Do it because you want to, and in the end, something good will come out of it.  

Spotlight Interview: Elizabeth Patterson

Elizabeth Patterson: Associate Producer, Jack Morton Worldwide

New York City

WFU Class of 2014

Double Major: Communications with Media Studies focus & Theatre

Elizabeth Patterson 1.jpg

Elizabeth Patterson is an Associate Producer for Jack Morton Worldwide in NYC. She graduated with a double major in Theatre and Communications. Her main message? Network! Read on to her about Elizabeth’s path since Wake.

DeacLink: What did you study while you were at Wake?

Elizabeth Patterson: I was a theater and communications double major, with a media studies concentration.

DL: Since you’ve graduated, how has your career unfolded? Can you walk me through your path from graduation day to your current job?

EP: My career path started when I was at Wake. I loved theatre, but didn’t want to pursue performing professionally, so I explored the operational side of art organizations. A few Wake alumni recommended Berkshire Theatre Group, as they had interned there and made key connections in the industry. I ended up at BTG for two summers - first in the box office, and then as the Development Assistant. In development, I connected with high-level donors and helped with fundraising campaigns, but my bigger role was assisting with their annual summer gala.

While in the Berkshires, I made contact with a family friend, who learned more about my role in events at BTG. As a theatre major herself, she introduced me to a new way to merge my goals and passion through experiential marketing at Jack Morton Worldwide.

I started at Jack Morton Worldwide as a freelance Production Assistant, going onsite to my first event between exams and graduation. Moving up to NYC for a temporary job, I was introduced to my team as the freelancer that was here indefinitely. I have never turned back. This industry operates with a lot of freelancers, so I was a permanent freelancer for three years until joining the Jack Morton staff full time last year. This has given my an opportunity to develop my skills, working up to an Associate Producer on the production team.

My job is essentially corporate theater - I produce shows. It can be anything from a local, internal board meeting, to top-tier talent performing an original show in an exotic location. It wasn’t my original industry, but when I look back there was a clear path here. It perfectly applies to both of my college majors, and has given me a way to tap into both my creative and business interests.

DL: How did you find and apply to the various positions you’ve held?

EP: Networking! As mentioned, I found BTG through Wake alumni, and I ended up finding my current role through a family friend. An in-person conversation is always best, but any form of connection is beneficial. Most people remember what it will like as a college student or recent graduate looking for job opportunities - it can be intimidating so Alumni want to help.

DL: This route is an interesting option for art alums considering we don’t have a formal arts administration program. What advice do you have for readers interested in breaking into the field?

EP: For me, I discovered that my liberal arts background gave me the rudimentary skills applicable to my role. Also, a bonus with liberal arts is creative thinking, which is harder to teach post-college. For the skills that I wanted more expertise in, I found there are multitude of platforms to continue learning of specific skill-sets. I have used online programs like Lynda, or searched for local seminars in the area for certain skills that I want to learn more about. For a niche market like mine, you apply a lot of different backgrounds and skills, so I am always trying to find additional ways to round out my expertise.

DL: What could Wake have done better to prepare students for life after graduation?

EP: One of the best things that Wake Forest did for me was providing the career trek to network through the OPCD. We came to New York for a few days, to tour companies and network with alumni. While it was a great opportunity, Wake could have done more to prepare us for the trek and coach us on the follow-through of the networking, to give us a more well-rounded experience. I was overwhelmed at the Alumni networking party, and I think that with more preparation and post follow-up I would have made stronger connections with alumni. Looking back on it, it was a missed opportunity for me, but an easy fix would be a longer program, giving me best practices for networking going in, and goals set in place to follow up with alumni post event.

DL: What is your favorite part of living and working in New York?

EP: New York is one of the biggest cities in the world, and one of the most diverse. It is special because of the cultures and people that make it unique - creating everything from world-renowned events to the family-owned restaurant. I was excited to move here because of the bucket-list NYC items that I had heard about, but what has kept me here are the little experiences that have made me feel like a true local.

DL: What is your favorite part about working for Jack Morton?

EP: My team. I have traveled all over the world, working on amazing projects, but that isn’t rewarding unless you like the people around you. Some of my closest friends I have made from work - we work long onsite hours, but then we still hang out post-event to enjoy where we have traveled. My colleagues have helped me grow since I joined the team, and there is mutual trust that ensures success for a project.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

EP: All of my advice comes back to networking. Reach out. It’s always worth it.

Spotlight Interview: Jame Anderson

Jame Anderson: Architect

Washington, DC

WFU Class of 1993

Double Major: Art History & Studio Art

Jame Anderson has quite possibly the coolest job in our nation’s capital. As an architect for SmithGroupJJR in their Cultural Studio practice, Jame works to bring cultural institutions to life. From designing museums of all types and shapes, converting archaeological sites into museums, to planning collections and object based research facilities for universities, Jame tells us what it takes to succeed as an architect.

DeacLink: Tell us about what you’re doing right now.. Are there any particularly exciting projects going on for you?

Jamie Anderson: I’m currently based in DC working as an architect for SmithGroupJJR, in the Cultural studio practice. We deal with museums, historic preservation, performing arts centers, and collaborate often with higher education for things like art on campus. I’ve worked on cultural institutions for my entire career since Wake.

Our latest project at SmithGroupJJR is deciding what will become of a site in Richmond newly discovered to be a slave auction house, jail, and business from the 17 and 1800s. The project has been titled the ‘Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site’, but was known colloquially as ‘The Devil’s Half-Acre’ in its time. Everyone knew this area in Richmond had these sort of sites but there had been no prior documentation of it until now; an archaeological dig recently revealed the site’s buildings and artifacts.

The most interesting part of this project follows the story of human progress in our country. The owner Robert Lumpkin willed this property to the woman who bore his children, who was an enslaved African American owned by Robert Lumpkin. When he died she donated it to what has become the Virginia Union University, the first historically black university in the state of Virginia, which was then just starting up.

When deciding what will become of the site, it’s very important to listen to the surrounding community throughout the process. Before we can bring our design to the Lumpkin’s Slave Jail Site, it’s crucial to allow those who will be surrounded and touched by the project to speak and react first. From this point we can begin to make decisions, the biggest being what the site should be. Should it be a museum, a memorial.. Something else? In the next nine months we hope to produce a concept design of the entity that will exist there.

This is the only project I’m able to speak publicly about.. But there are some other extremely cool projects going on that have to remain private for now.

 

DL: Take us through your journey to your current occupation since leaving Wake.

JA: I graduated from Wake in 1993 and decided to move to the city with the most museums, because I knew that’s where I wanted to work. I had done a bunch of internships prior to graduation from Wake.. my mindset was to get into any museum that would take me.

From ‘93 to ‘95 I did a series of odd jobs for the Smithsonian. I was in the Office of Exhibits Central (OEC), responsible for fabricating components of exhibitions. We did matting and framing, silkscreening, clay modelling.. There was even a taxidermist on the team. It was a very wonderful, crazy place to be. I fabricated and painted items for dioramas at first, but I found that I really wanted to design the dioramas themselves.

I looked into grad schools and at the time there weren’t many Exhibition Design masters degrees. I decided to go back to architecture school at Rhode Island School of Design. I had no idea what I was getting into at the time.. The program was truly above and beyond. During the completion of my thesis, my advisor Mikyoung Kim recommended I try working for a firm after graduation to see what I thought of it. I took her advice, and landed at a forty-person firm in the suburbs of Washington who had just been hired as a joint partner on the National Museum of the American Indian. I worked on that project for five years, after which I moved to the National Gallery as an architect and exhibition designer.

There we were in charge of everything that the art touched, and everything the visitor saw. This ranged from information desks and little cafes, to picking the wall colors and designing pedestals for the exhibitions, to gutting complete portions of the building to show collections. We worked closely with the curators throughout the installation process as well. You don’t get to touch a Picasso everyday.. With gloves of course!

All of my colleagues were the top in their field, it was a professional and beautiful place to work. We worked on more than a hundred special exhibitions and projects. Last year, almost a year to the day, I left the National gallery after thirteen years there. I returned to SmithGroupJJR ready for a different type of museum.



DL: Would you say your studies at Wake informed or drove your career path?

JA: Yeah, I think so. Double majoring in Art History and Studio Art allowed me to look and think critically and develop my writing skills, whilst developing a sense of aesthetics and my own brand or style in the studio. The combination was really good, although it did need to be layered over with a design education for the career I was pursuing. That’s of course where RISD came in, where they consider design to be an artform. I went into RISD agreeing with that, and left there disagreeing.

 

DL: Do you think Wake arts could have done to better prepare students for life after graduation?

JA: Probably… the thing is, Wake’s career services (at the time) worked really well for other majors, but not necessarily for those in arts concentrations. Career and internship information for students focused on Art History or Studio Art comes basically from the professors. And this of course isn’t a knock against Wake professors, but a lot of times when you’re in an academic institution, you don’t know about all of the opportunities out there because in the academic environment your focus isn’t on that. Grades and growth are the main focus.

The biggest lack of connection was preparing students for portfolio review, and for critiques that weren’t to other students and professors, but to people you’re trying to sell work, or yourself, to. To me it’s the professional practice aspect that was missing. The Buying Trip and Management in the Arts course were very helpful but those experiences aside, it’s challenging. The best way for students to understand what opportunities are out there, is connecting them with alumni. There’s a need for arts-focused career days, either on campus or at a host city. That would be great for Wake’s art department and its students.

In fact, I started something in DC because I noticed there were lots of women there in the art field who graduated from Wake. I decided to pull everyone together during a summer when we had three Wake interns working in the area for various museums. The goal was to have them meet as many of these professional women as possible. Since that initial gathering, we all get together two or three times a year and network with each other. Now there’s a DC rep for WFU, Jennifer Richwine, who we inform about our meetings so more alumnae can get involved. We need to get together again soon, sometimes it's hard... but we will and it's great to have that network.

 

DL: What advice have you got for students in the process of applying to jobs and internships?

JA: I’m a Generation X’er so in the summer of 1990 when I obtained my first internship, nothing was computerized yet in the museum and academic world. I sent typed letters to every museum in DC and heard back from just one. This initial experience taught me to cast a wide net and really put myself out there; you have to if you want to get anywhere. I take that into the present day too, even though emails and online applications are in place to expedite the process; if you don’t ask the question, send the email, you’ll never hear a yes. You have to raise your hand and go for it.

Specific to DC, students wanting to work here should go on usajobs.com and get their profile set up. Most museums are federally run, so you have to fill out a federal application. Secondly, they should speak to the people whose job they want. Whether it’s the job you want now or in ten, twenty years... Talk to them about how to get started. Chances are that something within conversation will remind them of someone they know, and they’ll put you in touch with them. And yes, I mean on the phone or even in person! Be ready to talk, to have very clear questions, and be professional.

 

DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?

JA: Architecture takes a lot of follow-through. You have to go to school for a long time, take a lot of exams, and it’s one of those disciplines that’s notorious for its long hours and relatively low pay. You have to love what you’re doing and want to change and build environments. So, I would say the hardest thing is perseverance- you have to be a little stubborn.

 

DL: What kernel of advice would you like to leave with the readers?  

JA: Figure out what you love to do, then figure out how to do it.